Just over a week on the job and Ponoka’s new Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson has fielded several calls for service and he’s eager to work with the volunteer firefighters of the Ponoka Fire Department (PFD).
When he’s not taking calls, the new fire chief, hailing from Crowsnest Pass, has received greetings from residents.
“This is the type of community me and my wife wanted to be in. A smaller, safe community because we do have small kids,” he said.
“Here it (Ponoka) has all the amenities that we’re looking for.”
Wilkinson was the fire chief in Crowsnest Pass for a year before moving to Ponoka and was deputy chief for two years prior to that time. “Prior to that, I was a captain for six. All in all I have 20 years firefighting experience,” he explained.
Part of that experience is working in industrial fire protection. Being a firefighter is something Wilkinson has always had as a career choice. “My father was a firefighter and my mother was an EMT,” he said.
“Both my parents were first responders and it’s something I grew up around,” he added.
Wilkinson was used to seeing both his parents go out for an emergency call and he was a regular fixture at the fire station in Whitecourt, where the family lived. As both parents had to go out for calls, Wilkinson did have a nanny to help with childcare.
Eventually Wilkinson’s parents moved to a farm and they gave up their positions, but the young Wilkinson had caught the firefighter bug, so-to-speak, and his heart was set on firefighting.
For a short time, Wilkinson was a mechanic and he says working on a car in the middle of winter on the highway solidified his desire to become a firefighter. “In 1995,m I started in the industrial section of firefighting,” he recalled.
As the new fire chief for Ponoka, Wilkinson says he sees one challenge for rural fire departments is having the availability of crews. “Daytime response is big,” explained Wilkinson.
In the calls Wilkinson has taken, he says Ponoka’s firefighters know what they are doing and they worked like clockwork at the scenes. He said he is pleased with their training and knowledge of what needs to be done. The goal is to continue on with that training.
“They have a lot of pride and that’s something you need in a fire department,” he explained.
“They want to make sure the community is protected,” he added.
Ensuring proper mental health for firefighters, who often deal with traumatic incidents is an important factor for Wilkinson. He feels posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a lasting affect on their mental health.
In serious cases, Wilkinson says debriefing will become mandatory after an incident. He says no one should be ashamed to discuss these issues.
Wilkinson says he has lost firefighter friends to suicide because of PTSD and he wants to ensure firefighters, including himself, are taken care of. “It shows not only compassion as the fire chief, but, it gives them the understanding too that they can come talk.”
Another area Wilkinson wants to grow is fire prevention with the younger generation. Wilkinson suggests children are sponges when it comes to getting information and they will transfer that to their parents.
“I love coming to work,” said Wilkinson of being fire chief.
He intends to expand on training and to find ways to recognize families who sacrifice their time with a firefighter who has to go out on a call. Emergencies don’t wait for anniversaries or birthdays or even family reunions and Wilkinson said families should be recognized.